Forums Spiritual Theology 1.1: The Way of Jesus vs. Interpretations of Jesus

  • 1.1: The Way of Jesus vs. Interpretations of Jesus

     Anonymous updated 1 year, 1 month ago 18 Members · 82 Posts
  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 11, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    NB: Discussion posts are required for the Academic Track; everyone is welcome to participate.

    Reflect on the contrasting interpretations of Jesus in Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited and Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne. How do you account for such different, opposing views of Jesus? (100 words)

    Due: Initial posts due by 9/17, responses to at least two peers by 9/18

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 14, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    The differing views of Jesus portrayed in the two writings are rooted in two very different experiences of human life rooted in systemic oppression. The Jesus that Du Mez describes conservative Evangelicals followings is a “winner,” a person who uses his power and might to bring order and who operates with inerrant judgement and absolute control. This is the way that many of those individuals, the majority of whom are white men, perceive their own role in both their homes as well as their churches and nation. Fearful of the “other” and they want Jesus to be like them, with the same responses and tactics through which their privilege has been maintained for centuries. Rather than wanting Jesus to be like us, Thurman, encourages the reader to consider how they might be like Jesus. In looking at the cultural, political and psychological context that shaped who Jesus was, Thurman provides a view of Jesus shaped by his experiences as well as those of his grandmother who was born into slavery. His portrayal of the treatment of those at the margins and his ability to take on the perspective of others and be honest about the ways in which we are called to respond to God’s call on our lives, provide a portrayal Jesus informed by a focus on community built within suffering and oppression, but not beholden to it.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 6:24 pm

      The image of Jesus as “winner” and “champion” are deeply etched into my psyche. I still have vivid memories of growing up watching skits and dramatic re-enactments, depicting Jesus as triumphant over his enemies. I still believe Jesus is triumphant over his enemies, I just no longer agree with evangelicalism on who those enemies are. Evangelicals would often quote “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood…but our warfare is against principalities and powers…” but I came to realize that the enemy was anyone who disagreed with our camp – liberals, homosexuals, universities, etc – and despite quoting this passage of Scripture, many evangelicals see other humans made in God’s image as enemies.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:14 am

      Thank you, Sarah. So many good insights packed into this very compact response. Jesus as “winner” with “inerrant judgment and absolute control” is both accurate and obviously problematic. The way you tie this to whiteness and masculinity, which are dynamics of power is very helpful for seeing the different path taken by Thurman. As I write this, I struggle with the awareness of falling into dualistic evaluation, but it really is difficult to avoid when the contrasts are so sharp.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 14, 2020 at 9:02 pm

    Du Mez’s book argues that white evangelicals developed a vision of Jesus that justifies patriarchal, white supremacist systems of power. Living under the heel of these very systems is Thurman, who turns to Jesus for liberation from white American empire. These contrasting positionalities result in opposing portraits of Jesus. Du Mez maintains that white evangelicals see Jesus as an example of “sanctified aggression” that effectively protects patriarchy and white supremacy. In contrast, Thurman describes Jesus as an oppressed man who overcomes not through aggression, but through loving his enemies despite “whatever may be the cost in life, limb, or security.” For me, to consider these opposing portraits is an invitation to examine whether I see a Jesus who protects the systems I benefit from, or if I see a Jesus who compels me to give whatever “cost in life, limb, or security” in order to follow.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 15, 2020 at 8:01 am

      The way in which you reflect on the invitation to reflect on the systems we benefit from really resonates. It can be really uncomfortable to examine ways in which we may benefit from systems of oppression, but it is so important.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks for your reflections, Yising. Like Sarah, I appreciated you naming not only the contrasting interpretations of Jesus in these readings, but, taking it further, to ask how these different interpretations affect our understanding of Jesus’s call: as One who supports and defends unjust systems that we might benefit from, or as One who compels us to give up such benefits in pursuit of his call to follow. This was a helpful invitation for me, moving the conversation from abstract reflection to personal and communal discipleship. Thank you!

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:17 am

      Thank you for helping us to see the ways in which white evangelicals and Thurman inhabited the same space! So much so that Thurman lived under the heel of white evangelical systems. And then at the end, you bring yourself into the mix. Challenging stuff and a reminder that these are not mere ideas we’re contemplating, but matters of life and death and the day to day decisions we make.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 15, 2020 at 12:13 am

    Reading Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited and Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne was a stark reminder that it is possible to read the same text and hear two very different stories. In Jesus and John Wayne, Jesus and his story are read and interpreted through the lens of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, militarism, and an obsession with power over others. In Jesus and the Disinherited, we meet a Jesus shaped by a lived experience of oppression, dispossession, and apparent powerlessness. Jesus and his Jewish followers are understood in their proper historical context under Roman occupation, experiencing violence. Du Mez writes about an evangelical movement that has decontextualized Jesus and his followers. Sadly, much of the white, evangelical church today continues to center the voices of those who hold positions of power and ignore the voices of those on the margins – the very voices that are centered in the Scriptures. The socioeconomic and socio-historical place we occupy when we read the Scriptures makes all of the difference in how we understand their meaning.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 15, 2020 at 9:06 am

      This sentence really resonated with me:

      “The socioeconomic and socio-historical place we occupy when we read the Scriptures makes all of the difference in how we understand their meaning.”

      Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      “The socioeconomic and socio-historical place we occupy when we read the Scriptures makes all of the difference in how we understand their meaning.”

      I’ve been reading a lot by the Taiwanese theologian Shoki Coe and the work of his students lately. They worked throughout the latter half of the 20th century on contextualizing the gospel for post-colonial contexts. Since many colonized nations received the gospel from colonizers, they were made to worship a god that justified their oppression. Just like you stated, Coe and his students argued that the context we occupy makes all the difference in the way we read scripture. Thus, they proposed a shift from a propositional way of understanding revelation to an incarnational way. How might we identify Christ in the midst of our people and their struggles? How might this radically change the way the church approaches missions?

      One of Coe’s students, Kosuke Koyama, wrote about his ministry in rural Thailand, “I decided to subordinate great theological thoughts, like those of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth, to the intellectual and spiritual needs of the farmers. I decided that the greatness of theological works is to be judged by the extend and quality of service they can render to the farmers to whom I am sent.”

      I’m wondering if believing that we might be able to achieve a pure interpretation of the gospel is an illusion. How might our theology change if Christians in America are able to acknowledge the varying sociohistorical/economic positions they inhabit as they approach interpreting Scripture? To lay it all out on the table, so to speak. I’m interested in how this might make our interaction with Scripture become more dynamic, interacting with it more as the “living, breathing Word of God” rather than as stagnant, unchanging dogma.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 17, 2020 at 11:14 pm

        Yising, I really resonate with this. There may be a place for scholarly discussion, but (to my mind) to the degree that it distances us from proximity with real people with real needs, it becomes a stumbling block. I continually return to the simplicity of Jesus’ message, the radical inclusivity and love that drew people to him, and the very tangible ways he met people right where they were at. I agree with you that there is no such thing as a pure interpretation of Scripture. And to me, even Scripture is quite limited in telling us who and what Jesus was like. I like to imagine one of the Marys giving her account––what she might have focused on and with what unbridled affection she might have described him! 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 21, 2020 at 10:24 am

        Sooooo glad you mentioned Shoki Coe! His works are incredibly important, not only for our work here, but for the history of western missiology. I have often wondered how it is that someone so significant has been appropriated and erased out of the western theological imagination. This never made sense to me until I understood the power and strategies of whiteness. Rather than theology as thinking great thoughts, theology as the work of the people, this is what Coe helped us to understand, how he lived his life. We’re going to be reading some (though not enough) Coe later in the year.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Excellent job helping us to see the power of positionality. Yes, we read from very specific cultural and social locations, and until we have interrogated that underlying reality, we are always going to perpetuate the same mistakes that harm and oppress. Your insights help us to see how very important it is that we get honest about our own locations, not just in terms of understanding but how we are actively dismantling.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 15, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    The word serves as liberation from domination as is clear in Thurman’s presentation. The version of Christianity presented in Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne reveals the tension between the word as awakening and the love of domination that sees the word and seeks to squelch its power on behalf of seizing a portion of that power instead of recognizing that it is freely given to all to be shared equally freely. In the Disney movie CCoco, the spirits of the dead come and visit the material world once a year to enjoy the food presented for them by their families. As many as want may eat of this food by taking a spiritual drumstick from the material reality’s superabundance without in any way impinging on the ability of all the dead gathered to do the same. The word seems to me analogously superabundant–we can share the gospel abundantly with all who want to receive it.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 9:30 pm

      I have always been drawn to this one description of Christianity as “a beggar telling another beggar where there is bread” (which upon googling is attributed to DT Niles). Lately, I’ve been kind of developing a parable from my own life that I think is similar to the superabundant feast but also pushes back at the colonial missionary posture of evangelism. I hope it will resonate with you too?

      When I planted zinnia seeds in my front garden bed, something happened that I had not expected when flowers came into full bloom: butterflies. At the time, my very white church was questioning how they could become more diverse, but the posture of their questions felt off to, instead of going out to try and catch butterflies to bring back to our “garden” (church), what was unhealthy about the environment that we had that we chased off all the POC that came through our doors? Instead of focusing our energies on trying to catch butterflies to bring back, that would likely die soon after we captured them, why didn’t we focus on cultivating a garden that people would be naturally drawn to because it supplied something they needed, it provided the beloved community that so many people crave. I think the same applies to evangelism or “sharing the Gospel” (and its gifts) in general as well! Set a beautiful table, a bountiful beloved community, and if the fruits (and flowers) and people will come!

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 17, 2020 at 4:31 pm

        I love your description of the garden attracting butterflies, rather than capturing and containing them. And, to take it one bio-logical step further, the butterflies are as necessary for the flowers as the flowers are for the butterflies. Drawing POC into a church is not a one-way proposition; it is a relationship. Just as God made the flowers and butterflies in relationship, our churches are enriched by diverse relationships with other people.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 17, 2020 at 11:22 pm

        Sue Ann, I so appreciate your sharing this image. I work with a mostly white community and we’re actively working to create a community where all are welcome and all belong. I’ve been sitting with the question of how we might build this Beloved Community and you’re reminding me what I’ve heard from justice leader Ben McBride. The wrong first question is, “What do we need to do?” The right first question is, “Who do we need to become?” Thanks for sharing this “attraction” butterfly paradigm!

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 22, 2020 at 10:17 am

        SueAnn, I’m really grateful for this image. And I love the connections others are making – Janet’s two-way relationship and Mary’s allusion to the Beloved Community. My question might be how do we do this without falling into a subtle form of superiority (or consumeristic like the seeker friendly models of contagious evangelism we saw from evangelical mega churches). That’s where the beggar telling another beggar about a “superabundant feast” is helpful, for it doesn’t reside with us. And yet, for many churches, it’s easier to get this rhetoric right than the reality.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 9:59 pm

      I like your observation that one perspective seeks to accept the word, while the other seeks to squelch it. Accepting the word leads to liberation of the self and identity in Christ, while squelching the word leads to a tireless work to retain power and positions of domination.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 22, 2020 at 10:13 am

      Thank you, Steven, for this vision of abundance and superabundance!

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 15, 2020 at 11:15 pm

    Imagine with me, if you will, that two men are staring at a yellow fire hydrant, except that the one on the left is looking at the hydrant through a lens that is tinted blue. And the one on the right through a lens that is tinted red. Now, imagine the confusion that would ensue if you were to approach the two and ask what color the hydrant is. Their differing answers may even result in blows — because the realities that they represent do not take into account that their reality has been distorted by the lenses that they hold.

    The writings of both Howard Thurman and Kristin Kobes Du Mez highlight this reality well, helping us to recognize that our realities are skewed and altered by our experiences. By the narratives that we surround ourselves with. In Jesus and John Wayne, Du Mez highlights the power and wealth that White Evangelicals have comforted themselves with — even back to the beginning of our nation. Contrasted with that, we see Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, a volume that points out how minority groups can relate to a God who lived a life that was more similar to them than not.

    At the end of the day, I think it’s important to come to that realization – because each of us comes to the table with different lenses that affect how we see and approach God. Lenses that are colored by our gender, by our socioeconomic status, by the color of our skin, and how we were raised. The stark contrast between the two views of Christianity and Jesus is a perfect illustration of how this can work, and of the importance of being able to put down our own lenses and see the world through the lenses that other people have to offer to us.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 4:00 am

      Thanks, Ellie. The phrase “the power and wealth that White Evangelicals have comforted themselves with” is an elegant way of showing how some respond to the trauma of sin by using the good news selfishly to amass power and wealth by seeking to limit the superabundance of God’s gift to all–instead of seeking to be liberated without using the spiritual wealth and power created by those who are robbed by systems of domination of wealth and power

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 4:00 am

      Thanks. I understand that we all see the world, as well as scripture, differently depending on so many things; depending on our lenses so to speak, but at the end of the day don´t we have to come to some sort of conclusion about who Jesus Christ really is? Is he the John Wayne Jesus? Is he Thurman´s Jesus? Is he both? Does Jesus transcend all our attempts to try to box him in? I can only speak for myself here. The circles that I come from would have definitively said that the Jesus Kobes Du Mez writes and reports about is the “right” Jesus. All other pictures of Jesus are simply not grounded in scripture and are, for lack of a better word, liberal. I no longer believe this, but I still do find it overwhelmingly interesting that two camps can read the same Bible and come to such contrasting conclusions about our Lord.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 16, 2020 at 2:29 pm

        I think at the end of the day, it’s a goal, but the first step towards that is understanding how our own concept of the world reflects how we see God. For me, it goes into what Peter was talking about in the first video – are we building a theology based on Psalm 1, or on the entirety of the Psalter? In my own life, I have gained the most when I have stepped away from the details to look at the big picture as a whole in studying who God is.

        • Anonymous

          Deleted User
          September 16, 2020 at 2:49 pm

          I remember as a kid asking my father who was a pastor at the time, why we read the Psalms in church that were so negative or sorrowful. I’m sure he answered me well as a 10 year but that video on the Psalter was so helpful to me and brought back such sweet memories of my dad trying to teach me to “live the whole Psalter.”

          • Anonymous

            Deleted User
            September 21, 2020 at 10:29 am

            Thanks, Sarah. I love this picture of a dad teaching his daughter to “live the whole Psalter.” Beautiful.

        • Anonymous

          Deleted User
          September 16, 2020 at 8:39 pm

          While I was watching the video, something Peter said really caught my ear, the bit about Psalm 1 only being part of the truth, that it had to be contextualized within the whole Psalter, and it got me thinking about how the Bible itself is only part of the whole truth. Because we can take any verse out of context, and it is true, but it is only a part of the truth that has to be contextualized with other parts of the Bible, then even more, how is the Bible (as a whole text, living, breathing, complete in its current canonization, yet incomplete in certain ways) itself only part of the truth?

          There’s a famous quote (I don’t know who originally said it) that everything in the Bible is true but not all truth is found in the Bible, we have to even contextualize the truths we find in the Bible amongst the world of partial truths we are able to see and know in our limited lenses, and I think for me that really frames how I treat those I consider Christians and non Christians. If none of us have a monopoly on the truth, I have as much to learn from a non-Christian as a Christian, so why do I need to differentiate so starkly who is in and who is not in (right and wrong), if not to create an enemy, which we’ve discussed a bit through this thread, of how we are called to love our enemies.

          A few years ago, I was reflecting on how I was trained in Christian apologetics to find one mistake or a thing someone said that would invalidate their entire argument (black and white, all true or all false mentality) as “look for the lie”, but as God was challenging me to grow and to receive wisdom from unlikely places and people (that I had before not considered worth listening to), to instead “look for the truth”.

        • Anonymous

          Deleted User
          September 17, 2020 at 1:08 am

          I think you´re correct. After having read your post as well as the others, I discovered, for me, a substantial takeaway. That is, while I might not be able to clearly identify the “right” Jesus, and while I may never be able to perfectly reconcile differing theologies about Jesus, I must try to remember how my personal concept of the world colors how I read scripture and how I understand God.

          • Anonymous

            Deleted User
            September 22, 2020 at 6:19 pm

            Love this perspective Matthew, and this much needed reminder. I feel a very similar pull to try to find the “correct” Jesus instead of acknowledging that my perspective is grounded in specifics of identity that are unalterable–I’m slowly (so slowly!) absorbing the understanding that a focused, intentional broadening of that perspective is perhaps a healthier and more functional route than trying to whip around with some sort of theological microscope so I can lock my sights on on some other, secure, specific position. Thanks for this thought!

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 16, 2020 at 9:10 pm

        This made me think about some writings I’ve read by Karl Barth. He writes in Church Dogmatics, “knowledge of God in faith is always this indirect knowledge of God…It lets [the faithful’s] objectivity become a witness – yet only a witness – to the objectivity of God.” Essentially, anything we claim to know about God will always be knowledge from behind a veil, simply a witness to God more than direct knowledge of God. We continue on in faith, not in the assurance of what we know or do not know. Wendell Berry might call this the “way of ignorance” 🙂 I don’t think this really answers your question about who is the right Jesus, but this is something that’s helped me hold conflicting theologies in tension over the years.

        • Anonymous

          Deleted User
          September 17, 2020 at 1:19 pm

          This is a great and relevant quote by Barth. I grew up in the world of Jesus and John Wayne, and one characteristic of that world is certainty. While of course everyone struggles with questions and doubt on the inside, it was crucial to display a sense of certainty around your beliefs on the outside. This leads to a quality of arrogance – I know with 100% certainty who God is and what he wants. I don’t think Jesus even models this kind of certainty. He spoke about God in parables and metaphors rather than boxing God in with absolute definitions. A big part of my faith journey has been becoming more comfortable with this kind of ambiguity and uncertainty.

          • Anonymous

            Deleted User
            September 17, 2020 at 11:37 pm

            “Certitude” was exactly the word that came to mind for me as well. And underneath that “fear.” I wonder how our faith might have evolved had we gone the route of the Jewish midrash and wrestled with our unknowing, and engaged in boisterous debate rather than dogmitized our faith and required a single narrative? Pete Enns tells us that Jesus used Scripture imaginatively (as you say, he doesn’t box God in: love that!), even for Jews of the day, and yet we idolize our interpretations and pretend that certainty is the path to true faith as if this somehow carries Jesus’ stamp of approval.

          • Anonymous

            Deleted User
            September 18, 2020 at 1:52 am

            Thanks so much for articulating this Jessica. I feel exactly the same way.

          • Anonymous

            Deleted User
            September 18, 2020 at 1:37 pm

            Thanks for the helpful reference to Jesus’ own pedagogy: namely, metaphors and parables. Metaphors and stories are always doing two things simultaneously: “it’s a bit like this,” and, also, “it’s not like this.” This dynamic, imaginative approach feels less interested in certainty than many seek.

            • Anonymous

              Deleted User
              September 18, 2020 at 5:41 pm

              I love all of this. If there is something that I have found a strange comfort in, it’s that I don’t know. And I don’t need to. God is far beyond my own understanding.

              It’s like being in a dating relationship. I love my girlfriend. But I realize that I don’t know everything about her. So every date; every time I spend time with her, I get to know her better. And that is how I picture it with my relationship with God. The moment I think I have Him all figured out, I’m in trouble. LOL.

            • Anonymous

              Deleted User
              September 21, 2020 at 10:35 am

              Yes, “Jesus’ own pedagogy” is indeed very helpful!

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks for the metaphor, Ellie. I appreciate that in this scenario, neither are quite right, or entirely wrong.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks for your reflections, Ellie. I agree with and appreciate you naming the importance of recognizing the lenses that we bring to our reading of Scripture, and the resulting interpretations. I was struck by this last line: “The stark contrast between the two views of Christianity and Jesus is a perfect illustration of . . . the importance of being able to put down our own lenses and see the world through the lenses that other people have to offer to us.” I wonder, is this a valid aim? Specifically, is it possible for me to “put down” the lenses that shape my reading of Scripture, Jesus, etc.? I’m not so sure it is. However, I do think the potentially harmful nature of our limited interpretations can be addressed and corrected, and ultimately made more robust, by 1) naming our lenses and 2) listening to those who are reading with different lenses. To the extent that we’re willing to allow our lenses to be named, engaged, and even corrected, our interpretations, and discipleship, will become more likely to reflect the incarnate way of Jesus.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 18, 2020 at 5:43 pm

        Thank you, Ryan. I think it is possible to an extent. Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement right now. I don’t know how the Black community experiences law enforcement. But in listening to their stories, I’ve been given a glimpse into how they see the world and how their lenses are shaped. And that helps shape how I view the world, adding another facet to my own lens.

        • Anonymous

          Deleted User
          September 21, 2020 at 9:51 am

          Thank you, Ellie. I agree with you that listening to and being shaped by voices and movements such as BLM are essential for those of us who do not share these same experiences. “Adding” these to our own experiences gives us a more robust understanding of ourselves, one another, and God.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:28 am

      A powerful illustration and a much needed reminder that we all have our lenses. Rather than denying that reality, it would be more helpful for us to recognize how it is that our lenses color and distort how we see Jesus. And then to marvel at the beautiful diversity of perspectives that emerge when we bless and celebrate the lenses of other people as vitally important to our collective vision of Jesus and Christian faith. And yes, we need to think long and hard about what we will do about the lens of power and wealth.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Here are two radically different points of view, influenced by access to power. According to Du Mez, white Evangelicals embraced the patriarchal and racialized culture of Jesus’ time and perpetuate it as a way to maintain their power. The humble birth of Jesus and his eventual ascendance to the throne of God is the precursor to the “[white] American dream.” Thurman sees a Jesus seeking to establish his “upside-down” kingdom in which those currently in power will no longer rule. He recognized Jesus’ subversive nature in the face of oppression, and applied it to the experience of African-Americans.

    It’s difficult for those who are in positions of power to accurately understand how influential power is to our interpretation of the world. If subconsciously, the powerful calculate how to maintain that power, and it is difficult to see when this is applied to our reading of sacred scripture, particularly as it speaks to those who are disempowered. Both of these texts were an invitation to me to check in to the ways I carry power, and to examine more critically – as best I can- how my power influences the way I understand Jesus, and put myself in the story.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 2:25 pm

      Power is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Many of us don’t recognize that we have power until we lose it – the power that I had as a straight cisgender male was power that I didn’t understand or recognize until I came out and began living as a queer trans woman. That experience has taught me so much, and it is a constant reminder of exactly that – what power am I bringing to the conversation, and how do I need to check it?

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 16, 2020 at 2:47 pm

        The call to self reflection and introspection is so beautifully put by both of you, Ellie and Rachel, I think for my own walk, it is the most important thing to take from both readings. As I become increasingly aware of the need to recognize my own power and privilege and consider the ways I contribute to harm, I appreciate both of your words.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 6:19 pm

      I really appreciate your emphasis on power dynamics. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with as a white person who grew up in a mixed race home – my step-father was black – is that even though I had the benefit of his experience, I’m still learning all of the ways my whiteness colors my perception of reality. I’ve learned that proximity to a different perspective doesn’t excuse me from doing the hard work of exploring the ways in which I’ve benefited from the oppression of others, and it doesn’t inoculate me from behaving in ways that perpetuate an oppressive reading of Scripture.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 17, 2020 at 11:43 pm

      This is great work. I too am actively examining my own whiteness and privilege and trying to subvert it by reading Womanist Midrash and other womanist interpretations that center the marginalized and hidden figures in our Biblical narrative. I’d love to know if you (and others!) are reading anything liberating along these lines!

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:38 am

      Thank you, Rachael. This is so very important, to understand how power operates, both in the obvious and not-so-obvious ways. I know you’ve been involved in this work in very close, specific, and personal ways, so look forward to learning from you and others here.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 16, 2020 at 7:57 pm

    In Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman speaks to the view of Jesus from the perspective of the people with their backs against the wall. Kobes Du Mez looks at the very people responsible for creating this very wall in Jesus and John Wayne. If the person that shares a title in these books was left unnamed, I’d struggle to even gather that it was the same person being discussed. Kobes Du Mez continues on to describe the way in which white evangelical churches have evolved to see those unlike them as missionary endeavors, while Thurman’s position is to be seen as neighbors. Perhaps the biggest contrast, Jesus and the Disinherited focuses on the Jesus that describes the inner life of the individual. Meanwhile, Jesus and John Wayne centers on the outward.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 9:54 pm

      I liked how you see it as one book describing the inner life, while the other book focuses on outward. One comes from the perspective of the oppressed, the other, from the perspective of the oppressors.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 6:00 pm

      I really like how you put that, Brandon. It reminds me of that quote from Desmond Tutu: “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:40 am

      Thank you, Brandon, for the many helpful and incisive thoughts here. Those with backs against the wall vs. the makers of the wall, missionary endeavors vs. neighbors, and the inner vs. the outward. While we can’t stay behind these dualistic structures long, we do have to recognize the different trajectories they represent, so that we can examine the ways we contribute to the building of walls, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 16, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    In Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, he describes his work as finding a Christianity for those who stand at present with their “backs against the wall”; In Du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne, we see a Christianity that defines its essence as one of domination, the one that forces someone’s
    “back against the wall”. I have heard it said, and observed, that through history that when Christianity is oppressed it tends to flourish and grow, and the only way to kill it is to co-opt or corrupt it, as the Romans did. To me, these two interpretations are not separate, but exist because of one another, a struggle between the call of Christ to lay down power, to humble oneself, is met with the equal and opposite reaction to acquire power and desire domination. The Gospel is transformative, powerful, and the only way to disrupt its power that is that of powerlessness, is corruption. Christianity’s greatest existential threat is itself. I have often found myself at the crux of these two interpretations in my Christian life, over time realizing that just because someone says “God” or “Jesus” (or identifies as Christian), they do not necessarily worship the same Jesus, the same Christ, or God as me, in question is the fundamental character and identity of God, but it has taken time to also realize this? Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

    I think it is also not my place to separate sheep and goats (that’s Jesus’), and have contemplated quite seriously, then how are we to live, worship, and serve amongst one another who share the name of Christian. I think that Jesus promises to make family of our enemies and enemies of our own household, and with that in mind, I am called to treat all as though they were both my enemies and as my family.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 16, 2020 at 8:28 pm

      “I think that Jesus promises to make family of our enemies and enemies of our own household, and with that in mind, I am called to treat all as though they were both my enemies and as my family.”

      I love this. As you were alluding to when you mentioned the Roman co-opting of Christianity, one way to frame the struggle of the Church throughout every generation is the struggle against empire. I think Jesus offers us a simple, but incredibly challenging path towards resisting empire – loving our enemies. While empires of the world seek to violently dominate and destroy its enemies, the Kingdom of God loves its enemies, even to the point of death. Like you, this is something I have to remind myself of often as I worship and serve alongside people I might deeply disagree with.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 17, 2020 at 1:11 pm

      You make a strong point about the way empire distorts Christianity by co-opting it and making it in its image. Lately I have felt challenged by this idea – while I may personally oppose a great many of my country’s policies and rhetoric, I am nevertheless a citizen of the dominant world power. Who am I, then, to have the arrogance to believe that I can correctly interpret the teachings of Jesus? More and more I feel compelled to look to the theologies presented by people in the global south, who have more in common with Jesus than I do. I think that as citizens of empire it is our duty to continually challenge our own assumptions, and broaden our perspective by listening to the voices of those outside.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 21, 2020 at 10:46 am

        Thank you, Jessica. Yes, it is hard but important work to examine (and implicate) ourselves first.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:46 am

      A clear and powerful denunciation of corrupt Christianity, followed up by an equally clear and powerful caution against too clearly drawing lines of demarcation. Especially when we profess to follow a Jesus who blurs the lines between enemy and family. I think you’re touching on something that is at the heart of the struggle before us, SueAnn! And the complexity of that work, if I’m honest, is both daunting (some days in ways that are debilitating) and encouraging.

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 21, 2020 at 4:11 pm

        I completely agree. The work of navigating the complexity surrounding these two “versions” of Christianity and “versions” of Jesus is hard. It’s very hard. I am traveling to Ohio to visit my mother this week and will be reminded that many of those described in “Jesus and John Wayne” are not villains. They are not evil people trying to grab power and exert influence. They are actually really good people who have grown up in a very specific context – speaking of positionality- and have found themselves in a specific narrative framework. How I will love them and communicate with them will make all of the difference. And frankly, that’s hard.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 16, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    In Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman describes Jesus as someone living in an oppressed minority group who was teaching and giving hope to that oppressed minority group. Jesus teaches these “disinherited” people to stand in hopeful courage and brave love, to see themselves as children of God just like those in power, equally valued and loved and wanted. Thurman focuses on what gospels say about Jesus, and how the disinherited people of today can accept the same hopeful message.

    In Jesus and John Wayne, Du Mez describes a warrior Jesus who fights for his country, who’s rugged and manly and takes orders from no one. She describes the Jesus that white evangelicals have fashioned for themselves, and this is the primary difference between the two books. One is a Jesus that comes from the bible, and the other is a Jesus that comes out of American, white evangelical culture. So if the question is, “how do I account for such opposing views of Jesus,” my answer is simple. They originate from opposing sources.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 10:51 am

      Thank you for this, Eric, and the ways you point us to the Jesus of the gospels. I think you’re right, of course, *and* the challenge I face with this bifurcation is that American evangelicals will often be the first to tell you how important, central, even essential the Bible is for their worldview, how they have this hallowed, high view of Scripture and no one else does (especially liberals). Sola scriptura, after all.

      Your call to more faithfully read, interpret, understand, and live out the scriptures is very helpful and necessary work.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 17, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    The different interpretations displayed in these two texts show that every interpreter of the biblical text brings to their reading their own positionality – their identities and social locations that inform the way they interpret the world. From a position of privilege and power, conservative white evangelicals interpret Jesus as one of them – a manly man, a white man, a winner, a capitalist, an American. This interpretation requires some major hermeneutical gymnastics that tend to ignore the direct teachings of Jesus found in the gospels and focus instead on their image of the triumphant Christ depicted in Revelation. Thurman, on the other hand, from his position as a Black man living in mid-20th century US, places the teachings of Jesus at the core of his interpretation, particularly Jesus’s command to love one’s enemy. Thurman associates Jesus with an ethic of love, and places him on the side of the oppressed peoples of the world. This raises the question that if every reader interprets Jesus through their own lens, how do we know which interpretation is correct? While there are many metrics that could be proposed, the one I lean on is “by their fruit you shall know them.” The corruption and abuses laid out in Du Mez’s book tell us all we need to know about the interpretations of the evangelical world, while Thurman’s interpretations supported and strengthened movements for justice and peace in the world.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 17, 2020 at 8:43 pm

      I was taught from an early age that we don’t interpret scripture, but “scripture interprets itself”. Years later I finally learned that the phrase being preached should really have been “scripture interprets itself, but only if it agrees with what we believe”. There is a lens we are born into and lens we create for ourself. I love that you used the phrase “by their fruit you shall know them”, and to add on, what a person ignores is sometimes more telling than what a person expends energy on.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      I love the way you follow the fruit of a theological viewpoint of Jesus to help in refining what is true. If a theology has led to so much abuse of power and corruption, it is hard to believe it could be a completely “right” interpretation of Jesus. I find Howard Thurman’s Jesus viewpoint of Jesus much more compelling, and have seen great fruit in the ways this Jesus has fueled movements of justice in the world.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 11:27 am

      Yes, you’ve identified the heart of the problem! How do we distinguish between the way of Jesus and the inevitability of our too human interpretations (positionality, seeing through a glass darkly, and all that excruciating stuff). I would like to hope you are right, that getting close to the heart of Jesus is possible, even if we are all prone to “hermeneutical gymnastics” now and then. And yes, your point about fruit is really helpful, because it puts us right back into the position of (not thinking good, grand thoughts) making choices about the good we might do in the world today.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 17, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    For so long, as evidenced in Jesus and John Wayne, the white man has defined Jesus for the evangelical world. This Jesus sides with the powerful, condones slavery, sets strict rules for what a family should be, and pushes for the promotion of these ideals as “good news”. The Jesus that Howard Thurman writes about in Jesus and the Disinherited, however, is not an object to wield but a person to know. Jesus is a poor man who was deeply impacted by his marginalized identity and formed by his historical context as one under Roman empire. This Jesus is radical and has more to say on living a life of struggle than a life of triumph. Although these two contrasting viewpoints can lead a person to surrender to any formal definition of who Jesus really is, I find it somewhat comforting that it is not my role to piece it all together. Instead, my role is to pray for the Spirit to give me fresh eyes to see beyond my own experience, colored by white supremacy, and instead into the eyes of Jesus. This is the journey that fills me with hope.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 17, 2020 at 8:35 pm

      I like how you arrived at the conclusion of finding comfort of not having the responsibility or role of piecing it all together. I feel like there is true power in being able acknowledge the unknown. Being “right” is not always the most important or commendable virtue.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 11:28 am

      “not an object to wield but a person to know” – so very helpful, Corinne! It really is all about relationships and knowing, following a person.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 17, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    ***Disclaimer: I completed Thurman and am aboout ⅓ way through Jesus and John Wayne at this writing***

    Thurman embraces Christ’s marginality to make him accessible to those grappling with an oppressive mid- 20th century American social order. Du Mez explores a Jesus deployed by the religious right to rescue White masculinity wherever it’s power is threatened by the marginalized assuming more power and influence in American society.

    Ironically, Thurman’s 1940s text reads like today’s newspaper headlines and is an indictment on our unfinished business regarding racial justice in American life. Damn infuriating, this was.

    Thurman would have been a contemporary of my own grandparents…and yet my 9 year-old-daughter lives at a time where citizens of color STILL GRAPPLE with how to negotiate white supremacy, state-sanctioned violence, gender disparities and internalized oppression.

    ( ***And if I might loop in the Pynchon’s reflections here: reading of Pynchon’s chronicle of his missteps, errors, youthful indiscretions of his youth— again in mid-20th century America— reminded me of the latitude and grace TOO RARELY AFFORDED to Thurman’s marginalized Black men—then or now. ***)

    Returning to Thurman: For Thurman, though, understanding Jesus’ own race and class context allowed Thurman to apply Jesus life under colonial occupation to Negro American life mid-century calling Negroes to move from fear to faith in God.

    Interestingly, Du Mez is also in dialogue with Thurman’s mid-20th century America, but provides us an opportunity to consider what life looks like for those who— are not disinherited— sit atop America’s racial hierarchy. In so doing, Du Mez explores various forms of “Christianity” rooted in White male power, virility, militarism and suppression of women, youth, minorities of all kinds.

    Du Mez’s text is a PROFOUND meditation on how White American Evangelical Patriarchy has colluded across time with government, industry, military and most key American institutions to wield power, influence and wealth for their purveyors.

    Both texts examine American masculinities in the context of faith. Yet, fascinatingly, Du Mez hardly mentions Thurman’s Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation. Might that be because THAT JESUS has so little to do with the Christianity practiced in too many American churches?

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      This: “Both texts examine American masculinities in the context of faith. Yet, fascinatingly, Du Mez hardly mentions Thurman’s Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation. Might that be because THAT JESUS has so little to do with the Christianity practiced in too many American churches?”

      So powerful! You are absolutely right. The Jesus elucidated in Du Mez’s “Jesus and John Wayne” is an ahistorical figure. Growing up in white, right-wing evangelical churches, it never occurred to me to locate Jesus in his social and historical context. I read the scriptures through the pair of glasses I was given, or inherited. When I finally took those glasses off a few years ago, I was both relieved and angry – relieved to know that the context in which I no longer felt comfortable was a fabrication and angry because it had taken me this long to start asking better questions.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 22, 2020 at 10:24 am

      Thank you, Nicole, for pointing out how little has changed. Between Thurman’s writing and today, much has transpired that should have led to change (the Civil Rights era, to offer one example), and yet we are all too familiar with the staying power of white supremacy and whiteness in general. Critical race theory can be helpful for doing deeper analysis (which we will engage in the months to come) and there is no substitute for the kind of grassroots activism you are so helpful in pointing us to. Yes, it’s important to recognize some of the relief and healing we are experiencing in this moment with the help of writers like Du Mez and other amazing leaders. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if there is a need for even greater sobriety and suspicion of all of the performative and rhetorical activism that abounds all around us.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 17, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    The person and teachings of Jesus are represented in starkly contrasting terms in Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne and Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited. For Du Mez’s litany of North American evangelical leaders, Jesus is the idealized, hyper-masculine figure—a powerful warrior, military commander, star athlete, prize fighter, and rugged cowboy—whose interests are politically conservative, patriarchal, and Euro-centric. The Jesus of Thurman’s work, in contrast, is distinctly first-century Jewish: a racial minority, oppressed by a larger and stronger political nation, who speaks directly to those whose “backs are against the wall,” offering not a future- or heaven-oriented salvation, but one that is inherently political and imminent.

    While Scripture itself includes diverse representations of Jesus’s person and teachings (e.g., the suffering lamb and the table over-turner), much of the above opposing interpretations can be explained by the fact that Jesus / Jesus’ teachings are often reduced to little more than a cipher: a convenient and powerful container for others’ views. While I happen to think Thurman’s interpretations are more true to the way of Jesus, be they historical-critical scholar or openly politically conservative evangelical pastor, all read Jesus through their own experience, and, in turn, read their own experience onto Jesus. As Frederick Buechner once wrote, “all theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography.”

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 4:51 pm

      I appreciate the way you worded this and found the final quote haunting and yet true in many ways. It seems interpreting Jesus through our own experience is unavoidable, and yet it makes me wonder if there are ways we can begin to expand our own lenses so that we attempt to engage another story than the one that comes immediately to us (our own).

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 21, 2020 at 9:52 am

        Thanks, Corinne. I have been haunted by this Buechner quote since I first read it, too—though I don’t think it’s necessarily or always bad. Our life (or our lens) is simply our primary way in which we experience and understand God, and it’s primarily through that experience that we follow God’s call. I do think you’re right in wondering if we can expand our own experience of God by engaging with others’ experiences. This is, I think, one of the reasons it is so important to listen to, read, and interact with others’ experience of God, especially those whose location (socially, politically, economically, etc.) is unlike our own.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 18, 2020 at 11:33 pm

      Like Corinne, I appreciated the Buchner quote a lot. It’s humbling and freeing to recognize how much we all read our own experience onto Jesus. I hope that this is something I can begin to admit more clearly as I offer up interpretations of Jesus, and recognize that I – along with any other individual or group – cannot hold a monopoly on the person of Jesus. Through that, I hope I can better recognize the gifts that other people’s stories might offer me in my understanding of God, even people I may be initially repulsed by!

      • Anonymous

        Deleted User
        September 21, 2020 at 9:53 am

        Here, here, Yising. I share your hope!

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 21, 2020 at 11:58 am

      This is really great stuff, Ryan. Like others here, you’re helping us to see the impossibility of seeing or understanding without interpretive work. Part of me does want to resist surrendering too much to the totalizing claim of Buechner about “all theology.” His nuanced “at its heart” helps a bit, but I’m not sure that “autobiography” obtains as much power as Buechner wants to think, at least not for everyone and certainly not in all places. To quote another (white male) theologian, John O’Donohue’s statement that our identity is not our biography may be helpful here, pointing to the hope and reality that we are more than the sum of our life experiences and personal stories.

      I really like where the thread is heading, as you all point out the importance of listening to one another, of aspiring toward a genre and life together that transcends our petty and incessant desire to center our own (autobiographical) experiences. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon about it, though, and maybe Buechner is right. Or maybe there is another, better way none of us can imagine at present.

  • Anonymous

    Deleted User
    September 17, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    Having lived through much of the tragicomedy presented in DuMez’s book, I’m still contending with the wounds. Seeing the scope of my own story––as a young Catholic who was trying to find her way in a shiny evangelical subculture––through the eyes of a historian helped me appreciate the vague sense of disempowerment I fought at virtually every level of my career and church experience. Jesus in this context is a puppet for those in power…a backroom powerbroker, hired gun, Viagra dealer to shore up the brittle egos of men. By contrast Thurman’s Jesus comes as a poor minority, entirely aligned with those who suffer, actively working to liberate people from the inside out.

    • Anonymous

      Deleted User
      September 22, 2020 at 10:27 am

      Thank you, Mary, this is beautifully put. And a helpful reminder of the real life consequences that reverberate today.

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